According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common hygiene mistake contact lens wearers make is wearing lenses while sleeping. While it might seem like no big deal to you, wearing contacts to bed is one of the worst things you could do to your eyes. Not only does sleeping with contacts increase the risk of eye infection, but it could also cause permanent damage to your corneas.
In this post, we’ll explain why sleeping with contact lenses is so dangerous and what you should do if you accidentally wake up with your lenses on. We’ll also go over the one exception to this rule: continuous wear contacts.
Why Is Sleeping With Contacts So Bad?
Almost everything that’s wrong about sleeping with contact lenses on has to do with the corneas, so let’s go through a quick eye anatomy refresher.
Located on the front of the eyes, the corneas are transparent layers that play a critical role in refracting light and protecting more sensitive organs like the iris and pupil. Significantly, the corneas don’t have a direct source of blood, which means they depend heavily on nutrients from oxygen, tears, and surrounding tissues.
When you put on a pair of contact lenses, you significantly limit the amount of oxygen that’s able to penetrate your corneas. Of course, this oxygen deprivation is most extreme during bedtime because, well, your eyelids are closed!
Without an adequate supply of oxygen, your corneas are ill-equipped at dealing with low oxygen levels reaching the cornea and the results are not good.
The corneas' response to this event varies between no discernable effect to extreme pain and blurred vision.
This can vary between individuals, and with different lens types and can even vary with the same individual on different occasions.
The degree of discomfort depends on the extent that the cornea swells in response to the lack of oxygen. It usually does no permanent harm to the eye, although if you get the painful response you will inevitably end up at the eye hospital convinced that you are going blind!
Treatment is normally time, perhaps with some aspirin. Very few people are keen to repeat the experience!
What To Do If You Accidentally Sleep With Contact lenses?
While it’s always best to remove your lenses before hitting the hay, accidents happen. If you wake up from a nap and discover you’ve slept in your contacts, please don’t panic. As long as you don’t feel significant eye pain, there’s usually no reason to visit your optometrist.
The first thing you should do is thoroughly wash and dry your hands. After your hands are clean, remove your contact lenses as you normally would. Due to the oxygen deprivation and drying out of your lenses, you might require a few re-wetting eye drops to successfully pinch these dry lenses out of your eyes.
With the contact lenses in hand, you could choose to either throw them away or douse them with contact lens solution. As long as there aren’t obvious signs of wear and tear, it’s usually OK to keep wearing multi-use lenses after they’ve been thoroughly disinfected.
If, however, you notice symptoms like bloodshot eyes, severe eye itching, or eye pain/blurred vision after wearing lenses to bed, you need to visit an optometrist ASAP. The sooner Optometrists can treat your eyes, the less the pain and discomfort you will experience.
Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 28 Apr 2015, Last modified: 4 Mar 2020